Director of Wildlife Biology Mark Vargas welds a cougar trap at the Department of Fish Wildlife offices in White City Thursday. - Jamie Lusch

New tool, old problem

WHITE CITY — State wildlife biologists are building a new live trap to capture and kill offending cougars in areas where chasing the animals with dogs or setting conventional traps is too difficult or dangerous.

Finished Thursday and ready for deployment this week, the welded iron trap will be used in cases where a cougar has killed pets or livestock and in some cases of human-safety complaints, biologists said.

In the past, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists used either agents with trained hounds or a federal Wildlife Services agent to track, capture and kill cougars that kill livestock.

With this trap, however, agency biologists said they will have the ability to respond quickly to a complaint and reduce the likelihood of trapping and injuring other animals, pets or people.

"A lot of our issues are in the urban interface and around people," said Mark Vargas, the ODFW's Rogue District wildlife biologist who made the trap. "This is just another tool to get at those animals.

"They're not as effective as using hounds, but if done correctly and right away, you can catch a cougar," Vargas said.

ODFW policy is not to release captured cougars, but to kill them humanely. In most cases, that means drugging the animal and then fatally shooting it.

Wildlife advocates such as Spencer Lennard, project director for the Williams-based group Big Wildlife, can accept the rare need to trap and kill an offending cougar.

But racheting up the killing of cougars regardless of method will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as long as farmers continue to leave livestock and rural landowners leave pets out at night in cougar-country, Lennard said.

ODFW officials are "so trigger-happy that we're causing more of a problem," Lennard said.

The trap measures 10 feet long, 4 feet tall and 40 inches wide, with thick metal screens on each side. It operates much like the larger traps agency biologists use to capture bears.

Lured by bait, the cougar walks in the open door and to the back of the trap. There, it steps on a panel that triggers the door to close behind it.

"There's no fear of catching someone's dog or livestock," Vargas said. "And it's a live trap so you can release what you don't want."

Livestock are too big to enter the trap, and dogs and other smaller animals are too light to trigger the spring-loaded panel.

Vargas said he expected to use the trap primarily at ranches with livestock deaths.

In those cases, his planned bait will be the carcass of the animal that the cougar killed and left behind, he said. Often in damage cases, a cougar will return later to feed on the animal it killed.

In cases within city limits — such as earlier this month, when two young cougars were seen chasing deer and a raccoon around Cherry Lane in east Medford — the likely bait would be a road-killed deer, Vargas said.

The trap will not be used every time a landowner calls with a complaint, he said.

"I can't build enough cougar traps to satisfy everybody," Vargas said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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